Dragons overcome illnesses in their championship quest

Posted Feb. 22, 2009, at 10:23 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Woodland appeared to have all the makings of a championship team coming into the 2008-09 Class D boys basketball season.

Coach Troy Cilley welcomed back a ballclub loaded with experience, including five seniors, and hungry to capture the Eastern Maine title.

But things didn’t go as smoothly as the Dragons had hoped.

Three starters, seniors Chad James and Eddie Flaherty, and junior Aaron St. Pierre, all came down with mononucleosis prior to or near the start of the basketball season.

“It really slowed us down throughout the course of the year, really until about the last month of the season” Cilley explained Saturday after Woodland beat Central Aroostook of Mars Hill for the program’s first regional basketball title.

The illnesses hit the players to varying degrees, but the cumulative effect took its toll on the Dragons as they prepared to embark on their championship run.

Woodland couldn’t practice at the level it wanted and wasn’t able to get up to speed as early as expected.

“The first couple weeks of practice we really couldn’t go full-out like we would have,” said James, who contracted the illness right at the beginning of the season. “We usually would have used those two weeks to get in good shape but they [the coaches] didn’t want to wear us down, [those] that had mono.”

Over the course of the season, the players took care of themselves and Cilley managed them as best he could. Not being at full strength hampered Woodland, which played a testy schedule that included a handful of quality Class C teams.

Perhaps most hard hit was James, the Dragons’ energetic floor leader. And his diminished play seemed to affect the entire ballclub.

“He has tried all year, he fought through it,” Cilley said. “But he was two different people.

“We were 70 percent of ourselves without Chad doing his thing,” he explained. “He’s the point guard, he runs the show and he didn’t have any energy.”

Finally, about 3½ weeks ago, James began to look like himself again. It was just in time for Woodland’s stretch run.

“There was a smile on his face, a little bounce in his step, and I said, ‘oh, thank goodness, Chad’s back,’” Cilley said.

James averaged 13 points and almost four assists in the tournament.

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